The shooting of Ahmaud Arbery was “sickening” to legislators in Atlanta, including Speaker of the Georgia House David Ralston.
“It made me sick,” Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, told The News Wednesday while in town to support state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island. “I was in shock. An unbelievable act of evil.”
Hogan, seeking a second two-year term to the state House, is being challenged by Democrat Julie Jordan.
Arbery, a Black man, was pursued and ultimately killed in a confrontation with three White men in the Satilla Shores neighborhood on Feb. 23. The three were arrested in May and remain in the county detention center.
While support for hate crime legislation had been building for some time, the February incident pushed the need for stronger penalties to the forefront.
Hogan supported the measure.
Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, did a fine job on the hate crime legislation — which the House passed in 2019 and the Senate followed in June — Ralston said. As a next step, Efstration was encouraged to start working on a law to address perceived shortcomings in the state citizen’s arrest law.
Through the summer, Efstration held a series of hearings on the law. A prosecutor said during the first hearing that it “tracks the language of the 1863 amendment” to the Georgia Constitution and might be due for an update. On the other hand, a complete repeal could complicate attempts to stop home invasions and shoplifting.
Efstration said he plans to introduce legislation to rework citizen’s arrest during next year’s session if he is re-elected next month.
COVID-19 might get in the way of that, but Ralston had confidence the state House’s protocols were more than adequate to keep legislators safe.
During the last legislative session, COVID rules required representatives to wear masks and keep their distance from others under the Gold Dome. That extra distance slowed down the voting process in June as some had to be moved to other seating areas to spread out.
Ralston said those protocols might be reviewed in light of another surge, but he felt it was a good system and would allow the state government to carry on with its business.